Japanese Rice: Everything You Didn't Know You Wanted to Know
What's the difference between Japanese rice and other rice? What is short-grained rice? How do you cook Japanese rice in a rice cooker? Is Japanese rice healthy?
Read on to see the answers to these questions (plus more information you didn't know you wanted to know!)
What makes Japanese rice different? (What is Japanese rice?)
The majority of the rice in the world is grown in Asia, and falls into two major types: Indica and Japonica.
Indicas are long grained rices that are not very sticky (Jasmine and Basmati rices are examples of Indica rices).
Long-grained Indica rice
Japonicas are short-grained rices that are sticky, and which easily clump together (making them easy to eat with chopsticks or make into a rice ball).
The rice eaten in Japan, Korea, and much of China falls into this category.
What about sushi rice?
Sushi rice is simply Japanese rice mixed with vinegar. Sometimes rice sold overseas is labeled as 'sushi rice,' but this is really the same thing as any other Japanese rice.
Short-grained Japonica rice.
What makes Japanese rice sticky?
おにぎり Onigiri (rice ball) impossible to make without Japonica rice.
Rice is made up of two types of starches called amylopectin and amylose. Amylopectin is sticky, and amylose is not. Thus, the higher a rice's ratio of amylopectin to amylose, the stickier the rice will be.
Japanese rice has an average amylopectin content of between 80 to 84%, making it quite sticky. In contrast, non-sticky Indica rices have an average amylopectin content of about 65%.
Mochi rice, or what many people call sticky rice or glutenous rice(often used for southeast Asian desserts) is close to 100% amylopectin, and is the stickiest of all rice varieties. The Japanese use this kind of rice to make mochi.
白米、玄米 White rice, brown rice
Rice grain in its hull, brown rice, and white rice
Do Japanese people only eat white rice? No! White rice is definitely the most consumed rice in Japan, but brown rice is also eaten, especially by those who are more health-conscious. But what's the difference between brown and white rice, anyway? Read on if you care to find out...
A Japanese rice plant
A grain of rice is the seed of of a species of grass. The above-mentioned Indica varieties of rice are grown submerged in wet fields, whereas Japonica varieties (including Japanese rices) are usually grown in dry fields.
On the plant, the grains of rice are contained in fibrous hulls attached to the stalk.
When this hull is removed, the rice grains taken from inside are called 玄米 (genmai), which we call 'brown rice' in English. Brown rice is the white endosperm and germ of the rice seed covered in a brown layer of 'bran.' This bran is actually where most of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber -- all the healthiest bits-- of the rice grain are located. Thus, eating brown rice is much more nutritionally beneficial than eating white rice.
Brown rice was actually never eaten in Japan until the middle of the Edo period (the 1700s), when the rice-hulling machine was introduced from China. Before this machine, it was more efficient just to polish the rice until most of the bran was removed, so white rice was most commonly eaten.
When the bran surrounding the endosperm and the germ are polished away, white rice is the result. The nutritional value of white rice might be less than brown rice, but the taste is generally preferred by most Japanese. Rice is the staple of the Japanese diet, and is eaten every day by most Japanese people.
White rice (bran and germ polished away)
How to cook Japanese rice
Wash the rice!
The first step to cooking rice is to wash it (unless you bought pre-washed rice). Washing the rice not only removes dirt and bits of bran, but also gets rid of excess starch on on the outside of the rice. When you wash the rice, you'll notice the water getting quite cloudy. If you were to leave this in the pot and cook the rice as is, the water would slowly turn into a gloopy gel that would end up coating your cooked rice, making it stickier than you want.
There are no hard rules about washing rice, and everyone has their own method. The basic idea is to fill your rice pot with water, scrub the rice by shaking your hand in the water, and then pour out the cloudy water. Some poeple will use a strainer, but this really isn't necessary. You can repeat this washing and rinsing process as many times as you like (I know some people who will do it 9 times), but generally about 3 rinses is sufficient.
Cook the rice!
Cooking rice in a kamado (竈)
The traditional way to cook rice was to use a large pot over an open flame (shown above). This is generally considered to produce the most delicious rice, and many high-end restaurants still cook their rice using this method.
For those of us cooking at home, the most common way of making rice is to use a rice cooker. Just add the desired number of scoops of rice, and fill with water to the corresponding line in the pot. Push the button, wait 30 to 60 minutes, and bam, rice!
If you only make rice occasionally, it is also possible to cook it in a pot on the stove top, just pay careful attention so as not to burn the rice. This takes more trial and error to produce good results, but there are some people who have good success with this method.
Anyone who eats rice regularly will probably want to get a rice cooker as this is undeniably the easiest way to consistently make good rice. I don't think I've ever met a Japanese person who doesn't have one--they're that ubiquitous. In Japan, there are literally hundreds of models of rice cookers to choose from, and each year the technology advances.
Japanese rice is delicious, sticky, and an indispensable part of Japanese food culture. If you want a rice that you can eat with chopsticks or make into sushi, this is the rice for you! Hopefully this article was informational and worth reading through. Thanks for sticking around to the end!